The Key to Leadership is… FUN?

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Have you ever felt like your job was all about trying to make a square peg fit into a round hole?


That’s often how I felt about teaching elementary school when I was fresh out of college (many, MANY moons ago.) 


When trying to get an eight-year-old brain (round hole) to accept that 3 x 2 = 6 even though 3 + 2 = 5 (square peg)… well, that’s where the challenge began.


Part of that challenge was also because while cursive handwriting, multiplication tables, and the life cycle of a butterfly may be challenging to a third grade student, the subject matter itself is not particularly scintillating for the teacher (especially when you’ve taught the same content for multiple years). 


That’s why at 23 years old I quickly came to the realization that the cardinal rule of teaching ANYTHING to ANYONE had to be: “ENTERTAIN THYSELF FIRST.”


When you find a way to have fun with your own lesson (or zoom meeting, or elevator pitch, or…), it inherently makes other people:


  • Sit up and pay attention
  • Get curious
  • Want to feel the happiness you seem to be feeling
  • Become willing to participate


And more.




Because when you are not just learning something but genuinely enjoying the experience, even smiling or laughing from time to time, it creates deeper, more lasting memories, using neurotransmitters (“happy hormones”) like serotonin and dopamine as the emotional “cement” to make them more positively permanent.


In other words, when you have fun, you learn faster and better.


Fast forward a decade or two, and this philosophy is still a driving force for everything I do in training, coaching, LinkedIn Live, podcast interviews (my show or someone else’s), conference keynotes and beyond.


Just last week I had the honor of leading a workshop for Leadership Philadelphia at Lincoln Financial Field, a.k.a. “the Linc,” home of the Philadelphia Eagles. Granted, it wasn’t actually out on the gridiron itself (maybe someday…) but it was a great opportunity to work with Liz Dow again, whose inspiring Speaking to Influence podcast episode you may recall from a few weeks ago.


I had a blast running the program, as I always do, and at the end Liz said, “That was great! Everyone was really engaged, and you even got to work a little improv in there! Have you studied improv?”


Although it’s on my bucket list, so to speak, I haven’t formally studied comedy. But I do know that when I entertain myself and have some fun sharing stories, telling a joke or two, and confessing my own human foibles of the extremely relatable kind in the course of the program, it allows me to model my “Three Cs of Vocal Executive Presence” and


  • Command the room (capture and keep people’s attention)
  • Connect with the audience (establish a rapport that reflects mutual understanding and shared experience), and
  • Close the deal (get to “Yes” and reach desired outcomes together.


This week's guest on the Speaking to Influence podcast understands the importance of having FUN more than anyone, and is the first person I’ve interviewed who originally became “famous” without speaking a single word for sixteen years!


I’m referring to none other than Dave Raymond, who was the first person to embody the iconic mascot of the Philadelphia Phillies – The Phillie Phanatic – from 1978 to 1994 before passing the torch, from which he built an entire brand around the importance of creating fun and happiness at work.



Now, for those of you who don’t follow sports to that extent, you have to understand that there are mascots, and then there are MASCOTS. And as MASCOTS go, the Phanatic – as typically described by Philly fans – is, well, NUTS.


In initially trying to figure out what to do with this furry-green-alien-bird-looking costume, he attributed his success to having managers who gave him:


  1. the clear mission of doing whatever was required to make sure the audience was having FUN, and
  2. the freedom to think outside the box and test every zany antic and personality quirk he could imagine every time he went out onto the field, in order to figure out what worked.


Surprisingly enough, he also shared how he experienced some imposter syndrome that lasted decades, only recently learning to recognize the credit he deserved, and stressed the importance of being able to advocate for yourself confidently, balanced with the right kind and amount of humility.


Since then, Dave has taken his lessons on the road as an author, keynote speaker, corporate seminar leader and more, all focusing on his central theme, “The Power of Fun.”


Listen to the whole conversation here and watch on YouTube here.


And in case you missed it, yesterday I had another FUN conversation on LinkedIn Live with Dr. James Smith, Jr., incoming president of the National Speakers Association, Philadelphia chapter, and author, trainer, coach and overall communication expert in areas regarding diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) and beyond.


Dr. James and I always have tons of fun when we get together, and yesterday was no exception as we joined forces to do some myth-busting with a conversation around “The Authenticity Myth: Separating Fact from Fiction.”


If you want to check out that conversation, you can catch the replay on LinkedIn here or YouTube here.


As a matter of fact, I’m having so much fun joining forces with other experts on LinkedIn Live, I’m going to do it again this Friday at noon with professional opera singer, author and leadership communication coach Allison Shapira.


Allison and I will be offering hands-on vocal exercises, tips and activities to ensure your very best, most confident, authentic voice comes out every time you open your mouth!


Join us so you can ask your burning questions in real time. You can RSVP here or go here for more information.

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